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By Bob Katzen

THE HOUSE AND SENATE: Beacon Hill Roll Call records the votes of local representatives and senators on roll calls from the week of July 27-31.

2015 SALES TAX HOLIDAY (H 3659)

House 136-20, Senate 27-11, approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker a bill allowing consumers to buy most products that cost under $2,500 on Saturday, August 15, and Sunday, August 16, without paying the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax.

Supporters of the bill said the holiday, which has been in effect for 11 of the past 12 years, would boost retail sales and noted that consumers last year saved $24.5 million. They argued that the state’s sales tax revenue loss would be offset by increased revenue from the meals and gas tax revenue generated by shoppers on those two days.

Some opponents of the bill said the state cannot afford the up to $30 million estimated revenue loss and argued the holiday actually generates little additional revenue for stores because consumers typically buy the products even without the tax-free days. They said that the Legislature should be looking at broader, deeper tax relief for individuals and businesses and not a tiny tax-free holiday. Others said that legislators should not vote for this tax holiday when they have not yet restored all the local aid, education and other important program cuts made over the past few years.

(A “Yes” vote is for the tax-free holiday. A “No” vote is against it.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.

$17.5 MILLION FOR KINDERGARTEN GRANTS (H 3650)

House 156-0, Senate 38-0, overrode Gov. Baker’s $17.5 million veto reduction (from $18.5 million to $1 million) for development grants to continue improving existing full-day kindergartens and encourage the transition of half-day kindergartens to full-day ones.

Override supporters said the grants are important to ensure quality kindergartens for thousands of children and to help meet the goal of making all kindergartens full-day ones.

In his veto message, Gov. Baker said he reduced the amount to the amount projected to be necessary. Although no one voted against the $17.5 million, opponents say that this grant program was designed to be an incentive for communities to move toward full-day kindergartens but was never intended to be funded indefinitely as a permanent subsidy program. Some note the grants often go to large communities at the expense of smaller ones that cannot afford costly grant writers to apply for the funds.

(A “Yes” vote is for the $17.5 million.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.

$5.2 MILLION FOR UMASS (H 3650)

House 140-16, Senate 38-0, overrode Gov. Baker’s $5.25 million veto reduction (from $531,807,373 to $526,556,901) in funding for the University of Massachusetts.

Supporters of the $5.25 million said that the funds are necessary to ensure that UMASS continues to excel as an outstanding public university that has gained a national reputation.

In his veto message, Baker said that he reduced the funding to the amount projected to be necessary.

(A “Yes” vote is for the $5.25 million. A “No” vote is against it.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.

$200,000 FOR STATE CLIMATOLOGIST (H 3650)

House 118-37, Senate 33-4, overrode Gov. Baker’s veto of the entire $200,000 for funding the recently created Office of the State Climatologist. A climatologist attempts to discover and explain the impacts of climate over a long period of time.

Supporters of the office say that 48 states have climatologists and it is time for the Bay State to join their ranks and take a step in the right direction of studying and acting on global climate change.

Opponents said the state doesn’t need a “weatherman” when other more important programs are still underfunded. They noted that former Gov. Deval Patrick and Gov. Baker used their unilateral executive powers to eliminate the $200,000 in funding last year.

(A “Yes” vote is for the $200,000. A “No” vote is against the $200,000.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, No; Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.

CORPORATE TAX DELAY AND EARNED INCOME TAX CREDIT (H 3671)

House 152-2, approved and sent to the Senate a proposal increasing the earned income tax credit for low-income working families with children living at home from 15 percent to 23 percent of the federal credit. The credit is applied toward the taxpayer’s liability, and if it exceeds the liability, the taxpayer receives the excess credit as a refund.

The measure also again delays implementation of a long delayed tax break for national corporations that was passed into law in 2008 but has never been implemented.

Supporters said this increased earned income tax credit will help thousands of low-income working families who are struggling to make ends meet and will result in many of them paying little or no state income tax. They argued that delaying the unaffordable business tax break is fair and leaves the door open to future implementation.

One of the two opponents, Rep. Michelle DuBois (D-Brockton), said she supports the increased earned income tax credit but also supports permanently repealing, rather than just delaying, the corporate tax break. She argued that giving a $500 million tax break in the future to a handful of publicly traded companies, such as National Grid, Verizon and Eversource, is unfair when taxpayers are struggling and the economy is still trying to recover.

The other opponent, Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville), said she supports the increased earned income tax credit, but thinks the funding has not been well thought out. She asks how the expansion would be funded in seven years, once the deferment comes to an end.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against the bill.)

Rep. Jennifer Benson, Yes; Rep. Sheila Harrington, Yes.

3-YEAR SALES TAX HOLIDAY (H 3659)

Senate 6-32, rejected an amendment establishing an annual two-day sales tax holiday on a Saturday and Sunday in August for the next three years. The state’s revenue commissioner would designate the date by July 15 of each year.

Amendment supporters said the Legislature has approved a tax-free holiday one year at a time for many years and argued that it is time to establish it for a longer periods of time. They noted that this would give consumers the opportunity to plan big purchases in advance and not have to sit around and see if the Legislature approves the holiday each year for the next three years.

Amendment opponents said that it is fiscally irresponsible to approve a three-year tax holiday.

(A “Yes” vote is for the bill. A “No” vote is against it.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, No; Sen. James Eldridge, No; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, No.

IMPOSE SALES TAX ON ITEMS BOUGHT ONLINE (S 1974)

Senate 32-6, approved and sent to the House a bill that would require the state to plan and prepare to collect sales taxes on all items purchased online if and when the federal government authorizes states to mandate that Internet sellers collect sales taxes. Federal law currently only requires the sales tax to be collected by sellers who have a physical presence like a store or warehouse in the state.

Under current state law, a Massachusetts resident who buys a taxable item online is required to take the initiative and pay the 6.25 percent sales tax upon filing of his or her state tax return. But few ever do so.

Supporters said this will raise a much needed $150 million to $200 million annually if implemented in the Bay State. They noted that Massachusetts local brick and mortar stores are all required to collect the sales tax and are losing sales to online companies.

Opponents said the tax is a new tax since the honor system of people paying the sales tax when filing their returns has not worked. They said the last thing the state’s taxpayers need is a tax increase during this struggling economy.

(A “Yes” vote is for the amendment. A “No” vote is against it.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.

CORPORATE GENDER DIVERSITY (S 1007)

Senate 38-0, approved and sent to the House resolutions encouraging equitable and diverse gender representation in the public and private leadership of Massachusetts companies and state government. The resolutions call for all companies in the Bay State to adopt policies to increase the gender diversity in their boards of directors and senior management groups. Another provision suggests that by the end of 2018, all corporate boards with nine or more members should have a minimum of three women directors, and all boards with fewer than nine members should have a minimum of two women directors.

Supporters said that women are underrepresented in these positions and that diverse corporate leadership is good for business and for the state’s economy. They argued it is time to close this gender gap.

(A “Yes” vote is for the resolutions.)

Sen. Eileen Donoghue, Yes; Sen. James Eldridge, Yes; Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, Yes.

ALSO ON BEACON HILL

YOUNG REFEREES (H 1690) — The House gave initial approval to a bill allowing boys and girls between the ages of 11-13, with their parents’ permission, to be employed in any city or town as a youth athletic program referee or umpire, or official for children up to age 13, providing there is an adult connected with the athletic program present.

BAN HEIGHT AND WEIGHT DISCRIMINATION (H 1764) — The Labor and Workforce Development Committee has recommended passage of a bill that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of a person’s height or weight.

PREGNANCY IN THE WORKPLACE (H 1769) — The Labor and Workforce Development Committee also recommended passage of a measure that would prohibit employers from denying “reasonable accommodations” for any condition of a job applicant or employee related to pregnancy or childbirth, unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business.

BAN SEXUAL ORIENTATION CONVERSION THERAPY (H 97) — The Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities held a hearing on a bill that would prohibit psychiatrists and other mental health professionals from providing conversion therapy to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender minors under 18 designed to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Supporters of the ban say being gay, bisexual or transgender are not diseases and therefore do not need a cure. They argued this type of junk therapy is very destructive and argued there is no sound evidence that it ever works.

Opponents of the ban said the treatment has been successful for children who were sexually abused and the abuse influenced their sexuality. They noted that the conversion therapy should not be used on any patient who believes that he or she is simply born with a specific sexual preference.

HOW LONG WAS LAST WEEK’S SESSION? During the week of July 27-31, the House met for a total of 12 hours and 34 minutes and the Senate met for a total of 14 hours and 48 minutes.

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